We have a few banana plants in our backyard, and we thought it’d be fun to turn them into a banana circle. While we had an idea of where to start, we really didn’t know much. So, we did some more research. Here’s what we found.
A banana circle is a permaculture technique where bananas are planted in a circular mound around a central compost pit. This design maximizes water and nutrient use, reduces erosion, and creates a microclimate. Regularly add organic matter to the pit for optimal growth and harvest bananas as they ripen.
So, while banana circles sound like a fun and promising permaculture technique, which plants are involved, what are their roles, and how can you plant a banana circle? Let’s take a closer look.
What Do You Plant in a Banana Circle?
When planting a banana circle, begin with banana plants as the primary occupants. These moisture-loving plants will thrive in this design. However, don’t limit yourself to just bananas! Here’s a list of plants that go great in banana circles:
- Bananas – (of course) the main component and moisture-loving plants that provide the structure for the circle.
- Taro – Another moisture-loving plant that can thrive in the same environment as bananas.
- Papaya – A tropical fruit tree that enjoys the microclimate created by the banana circle.
- Sweet Potato – A versatile and productive ground cover that helps suppress weeds.
- Yams – Similar to sweet potatoes, they grow well in the moist conditions provided by the banana circle.
- Pigeon Peas – Nitrogen-fixing shrub that enriches the soil and provides support for bananas.
- Leguminous Trees – Trees like Gliricidia, Leucaena, or Moringa that can fix nitrogen, provide shade, and stabilize the mound.
- Perennial Peanut – A ground cover plant that suppresses weeds and helps prevent soil erosion.
- Creeping Thyme – Another ground cover option, adding a lovely fragrance and preventing soil erosion.
If you’d like, here are some more details about these choices:
Companion plants like taro, papaya, sweet potato, yams, and other tropical plants appreciate the moisture and shade provided by the bananas. These plants not only coexist but also support each other by contributing to a healthy soil ecosystem, sharing nutrients, and attracting beneficial insects.
Consider adding nitrogen-fixing plants like pigeon peas or leguminous trees. They help in enriching the soil and provide support for the bananas by stabilizing the mound. Lastly, add some ground cover plants like perennial peanut or creeping thyme to suppress weeds and prevent soil erosion.
The key is to choose plants that are compatible with the needs of your banana plants while also providing additional benefits to your garden ecosystem. Experiment with different combinations to find the best mix for your specific climate and soil conditions.
How to Make a Banana Circle (10 Easy Steps)
Making a banana circle may sound a little intimidating, but I found these 10 steps to keep it pretty easy. Here are each of the steps to making a banana circle:
- Choose the location: Select a spot that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight per day and has enough space for the banana plants and companion plants. If possible, choose a location where water naturally accumulates, like a low-lying area or a spot with good water runoff.
- Dig the central pit: Dig a circular pit about 3-5 feet in diameter and 2-3 feet deep. The soil you remove from the pit will be used to create the surrounding mound.
- Create the mound: Arrange the soil you removed from the pit in a circular shape around the edge, forming a raised mound. The mound should be about 1-2 feet high and have a gentle slope.
- Plant the bananas: Plant banana pups (young banana plants) around the mound, spacing them about 3-4 feet apart. You can usually fit 4-6 banana plants around the circle. When planting, ensure the roots are well-covered with soil, and the base of the stem is slightly above ground level.
- Add companion plants: Plant your chosen companion plants (taro, papaya, sweet potato, yams, etc.) between the banana plants on the mound. Space them according to their specific requirements to ensure they have room to grow and thrive.
- Incorporate nitrogen-fixing plants: Plant nitrogen-fixing plants like pigeon peas or leguminous trees around the mound to enrich the soil and provide support for the bananas.
- Add ground cover: Plant ground cover species like perennial peanut or creeping thyme to suppress weeds and prevent soil erosion.
- Fill the pit with organic matter: Add compost, kitchen scraps, leaves, or other organic materials to the central pit. This will provide nutrients for the plants and help retain moisture in the circle.
- Mulch and water: Apply a thick layer of mulch (wood chips, straw, or leaves) around the plants to help conserve moisture and suppress weeds. Water the banana circle deeply, ensuring the soil is moist but not waterlogged.
- Maintain your banana circle: Regularly add organic matter to the central pit, and prune any dead leaves or stems from the plants. Harvest bananas and other produce as they ripen, and keep an eye out for pests or diseases.
Another vital part of creating a successful banana circle is planning.
Before you start digging and planting, take some time to sketch out your design and decide which plants you want to include. This will help you visualize the final result and ensure you have a balanced mix of plants that will support each other.
Consider factors like sunlight, water availability, and the specific needs of each plant when planning your circle.
Also, don’t forget to think about how the circle will change over time as the plants grow and mature. Regular maintenance, such as pruning and adding organic matter to the pit, will keep your banana circle flourishing and productive.
More Companion Plants for a Banana Circle
While we’ve already mentioned some great companion plants for your banana circle, there are many more options to consider. Incorporating a variety of plants will further enhance the ecosystem and provide additional benefits. Here are some more companion plants to consider:
- Cassava – A hardy, drought-tolerant root crop that can grow well in the same tropical conditions as bananas.
- Ginger – A shade-loving plant that adds a spicy flavor to your garden and thrives in the moist environment created by the banana circle.
- Turmeric – Similar to ginger, turmeric enjoys the moist and shady conditions of a banana circle, and it’s known for its numerous health benefits.
- Chaya – A leafy green vegetable, also known as tree spinach, which can provide shade and nutrients for the other plants in the circle.
- Lemongrass – A fragrant herb that can help deter pests and provide additional erosion control on the mound.
- Comfrey – A dynamic accumulator plant that can help mine nutrients deep in the soil and bring them to the surface for other plants to use.
- Arugula – A leafy green that can be grown as a ground cover and adds a peppery flavor to salads.
- Marigolds – These beautiful flowers not only add color to your banana circle but also help deter pests and attract pollinators.
- Aloe Vera – A succulent plant that offers soothing and healing properties, and can tolerate the moist conditions of a banana circle.
Banana Circles & Graywater
Banana circles can be an effective and environmentally-friendly way to utilize graywater in your garden.
Graywater, which is the wastewater generated from household activities like laundry, dishwashing, and bathing, can be a valuable resource for irrigating your plants, provided that it is used safely and responsibly.
Due to their high water requirements and tolerance for nutrient-rich environments, bananas and many of their companion plants can effectively process and filter graywater, reducing the need for additional irrigation and conserving precious water resources.
When using graywater in your banana circle, make sure the water you’re using is free of harmful chemicals or contaminants.
Avoid using water containing bleach, boron, or salt, as these can be toxic to plants and harm the soil ecosystem.
Also, be sure to use biodegradable, plant-friendly soaps and detergents in your household to minimize any negative impacts on your garden.
To further filter the graywater, plant species like vetiver grass, which is known for its ability to purify water and prevent soil erosion.
More Tips For Banana Circles
While we covered a lot about banana circles, here are some more tips to help:
- Choose the right banana variety: Consider the climate and conditions in your area when selecting banana plants. Some varieties are more cold-hardy, while others may require more heat and humidity. Do some research to find the best variety for your location.
- Improve the soil: If your soil is heavy clay or sandy, you may need to amend it with compost or other organic matter to improve drainage and fertility. Good soil structure is crucial for the success of your banana circle.
- Establish a watering routine: While banana circles are designed to conserve water, you’ll still need to water them, especially during dry spells. Monitor soil moisture and water when necessary to keep the circle healthy and productive.
- Prune and thin plants: Keep an eye on the growth and health of your plants. Prune any dead leaves or stems, and thin out overcrowded plants to ensure adequate air circulation and sunlight penetration.
- Monitor for pests and diseases: Regularly inspect your banana circle for signs of pests or diseases, and take appropriate action to address any issues. This might include removing infested plants, using natural pest controls, or introducing beneficial insects.
- Rotate crops: To maintain soil fertility and prevent the buildup of pests and diseases, consider rotating your companion plants every few years. This will also give you a chance to experiment with new plant combinations and further diversify your garden.
- Use a living trellis: If you’re growing climbing plants in your banana circle, such as beans or peas, use taller plants like papaya or leguminous trees as living trellises. This saves space and provides additional support for the climbers.
- Harvest sustainably: When harvesting bananas or other produce from your banana circle, be mindful of the plants’ overall health. Don’t overharvest, and always leave enough foliage and fruits to support the continued growth and health of the circle.
Also, remember to be patient and adaptive when establishing your banana circle.
For example, don’t be discouraged if some plants struggle or if you need to adjust your design or plant selection. Gardening is a learning process, and each season brings new opportunities to refine and improve your banana circle.
If you’d like to see a bit more about banana circles, check out this helpful video by John Kaisner – The Natural Farmer.
Need More Help?
You can always ask us here at Couch to Homestead, but you should know the other resources available to you! Here are the resources we recommend.
- Local Cooperative Extension Services: While we do our best with these articles, sometimes knowledge from a local expert is needed! The USDA partnered with Universities to create these free agriculture extension services. See your local services.
- 7 Easy Steps to Grow Fruit Trees (Free Guide): Need more fruit tree help from the ground up? See our free guide to make growing fruit trees a breeze.
- Ask the Free Community: Join The Couch to Homestead Community and connect with other members discussing gardening, homesteading, and permaculture.
- 30-Day Permaculture Food Forest Course: Learn how to turn your backyard into a thriving food forest in just 30 days with our online course.
- Mollison, B., & Slay, R. M. (1991). Introduction to Permaculture. Tagari Publications.
- Hemenway, T. (2009). Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. Chelsea Green Publishing.